Just Before the Revolution

Was there a gay revolution in Northampton? A look at the gay subculture that existed here just before 1970 may help answer that. I am still looking for and surveying existing literature but here’s a summary of one piece of research.

Lack of documents is one thing noted by Vincent Bonfitto in his 1990 search for Valley gay history prior to the modern gay and lesbian political movements. Only by interviewing seven older gays and lesbians (all of whom may have been white), including Warren Clark and Jean Grossholtz, for his Master’s thesis at UMass was he able to add a little to our sparse knowledge of post-WWII Valley gay subculture.

In general he found this subculture was largely limited to very private social networks meeting in each others homes; and, often isolated individual couple relationships. Gays and lesbians in this era often had to go out of town to find venues for meeting each other. The experiences of men and women and their subcultures differed in significant ways.

Those interviewed by Bonfitto noted that social life for gay male academics centered around private Smith College cocktail parties and trips to Jacob’s Pillow dance center in  Becket MA in summer. Gay male social life was absent at Amherst College, where a gay male faculty member had been asked to resign in the 1950s. No information was included on UMass, except that couples existed. One social network consisted of gay priests in the diocese. Three of the four men interviewed had lost jobs because of homosexuality, one not rehired at Amherst High School in 1962 for, among other things, being “effeminate.”

Gay men in the Valley cruised public facilities for anonymous sex in Amherst, Holyoke, and Greenfield, as well as Northampton. The largest cruising grounds familiar to the men were in Springfield, including the lobby of the Bridgeway Hotel, a huge public men’s room next to City Hall, and the park behind Old First Church off Court Square.

The nearest gay bars were also in Springfield. Though they occasionally were visited by gay women, they were largely for men, with varying clientele. The fourth floor bar and restaurant Blakes was run like a private club, very “high class,” and had drag balls during the holidays. The Arbour was a formal, “posh” piano bar for the over-thirty crowd, while the Arch and Sports Lounge were more informal and mixed class. The Arch, in particular, was known as a pickup place. Bonfitto doesn’t mention the race of bar patrons, the location of the bars, or dates of existence.

Gay women’s or lesbians’ culture appears to have been much more restricted and largely separate from the men’s. Throughout his thesis, Bonfitto refers to the women as “lesbians,” with no note of the actual self-referents of those he interviewed. The three women noted very closed social networks, little bar attendance, but the known existence of a reputed butch-femme bar culture with alcohol-fueled violence. At Mt. Holyoke College, students who came out (were discovered) were moved by the administration to live by themselves in single dorm rooms or off campus. The only alternative to the Springfield bars mentioned above, for women,  was attendance in Boston at Daughters of Bilitis events and vacationing in Provincetown.

Aside from Bonfitto’s thesis there are a few other published sources I have yet to review that contain bits about this period. Some scraps have come my way. I was told by a Smith College alumnae who came to live at Green Street in the early 70s that she had been suspended for a semester and sent home to get psychiatric treatment because her feelings for another woman became apparent to others.

In 1969, among the many old WAC friends who visited my partner Susan and me in Williamsburg, was a gay female couple then living in New York. They brought the portentous news that one of them was transitioning to male. Because of Susan’s regular correspondence with Ladder editor Barbara Grier, our friend Karl (literary pseudonym) wrote what may have been the first article on transsexuals published by the magazine. In 1972, the couple, now legally married and with an adopted child, moved to Northampton and totally assimilated.

The Ladder Apr/May 1970. Written by a transsesexual who moved to Northampton in 1972 with his wife and child.
The Ladder Apr/May 1970. Karl (a literary pseudonym) moved to Northampton in 1972 with his wife and child.

The semi-rural nature of the Valley and the generally small size of towns, even those with academic institutions, undoubtedly contributed to the very private and often isolated existence of gay people in Northampton and the area prior to 1970.

What began to change and how it happened are the topics of the next series of blogs on the 1970s. I am very much looking forward to getting my personal copy of Lillian Faderman’s new history the Gay Revolution. It’s been given fine reviews and I’m sure, like the other volumes I have of her work, I will underline, highlight and scribble madly in its margins. A timely publication that can be referred to as we lay out the story of the revolution here in the Valley. Stay tuned in!

COMING NEXT: A Kind of Revolution: Overview.

__Bonfitto,Vincent F. “The Formation of Gay and Lesbian Identity and Community in the Connecticut River Valley of Western Massachusetts, 1900-1970.” Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 33(1) 1997, 69-96. Haworth Press. I will include more material in future blogs.
__Ericsen, Karl. “The Transsexual Experience.” The Ladder, Apr/May 1970, 25-27. Daughters of Bilitis, San Francisco.

FUTURE WORK? LOOKING FOR: I have also been told about, but not yet verified and researched, semi-pro women’s baseball and basketball teams in Springfield, and a Valley-wide industrial women’s softball league that may have existed in the 1960s. Who knows about this? Also were there male equivalents? Or bar leagues as have been found in other large cities? Does anyone know the location of the Springfield bars mentioned by Bonfitto, or (pie in the sky) have photos? I will post a blog soon on the Girls Club, lesbian bar in Chicopee started in the 1940s.

Scraps of the Past

In 2004 Mark Carmien, owner of Pride and Joy (the LGBT gift and book store on Crafts Avenue in Northampton at that time), got a phone call from a man saying that his gay uncle had died and in cleaning out the deceased’s home he had found some memorabilia. What, the caller wondered, should he do with it?

Carmien got in touch with Northampton’s unofficial gay archivist, Phil “Bambi” Gauthier, who collected the box of material dropped off at the bookstore. The box contained gay erotic magazines and several albums of undated color Polaroid photos.

These photo records, though undated, would probably have been from 1965 or later. Polaroid color cameras first became available in 1963, and they released their most popular low priced “Swinger” model in 1965. One obvious benefit of these cameras was cutting out the need to have the photos developed by someone else, and risk censorship or worse for any erotic content.

Two of the albums passed to Bambi were filled with no-face-showing close-ups, obviously in a private home, of erections and asses. As he leafed through the third album, browsing the selection of candid but more clothed snapshots from many home parties held or attended by the Springfield man during the 1960s and 70s, Bambi came across several snapshots of his own “grandmere,” R. Warren Clark, dressed as Sophie Tucker.

“Sophie Tucker” Warren Clark (on right) of Northampton at a drag party with unidentified escort, probably in Springfield during the late 1960s or 1970s. Source: Phil Gauthier collection

In 1987, the then-nineteen-year-old Gauthier had decided to join the local chapter of Integrity, and asked two Northampton gay “elder statesmen” to stand as his baptismal godparents. The two men, Warren and Ralph Intorcio, had for decades been part of a small circle of gay male friends who met regularly for little suppers. Many worked at the VA Hospital in Leeds, and were married with children, sharing their gay life only very privately with each other.

Interviewed in 2004, Bambi remembered Ralph coming home several years after his baptism with a few boxes belonging to one of those men. The friend had just died and, as per the contract this small group had with each other, Ralph used the key he had been given to go into the deceased man’s home and remove anything indicating his secret life before relatives might discover it. Bambi remembered getting brief glimpses of that secret life as he handed letters of WWII and Korean War soldiers—along with photos of them arm-in-arm, many with cheeky and loving notes on the back–to his godfather who fed them into a fire in the woodstove on the summer porch. Seeing this history disappear was one of the saddest things Bambi had ever witnessed.

Fifteen years later, because of a thoughtful nephew, Gauthier had a piece of the past that usually got destroyed. Most of us don’t think about the fact that as we live, we are making history. We don’t think about the history books that can be written only based on whatever documents have been saved or memories have been recorded. In recent decades many people have moved away, taking with them group records, flyers, news clippings and correspondence. Others have thrown out journals, letters or scrapbooks. Many boxes of documents are moldering in basements, attics, or garages.

__Gauthier, Phil “Bambi.” Conversations with, Sep.2004, Northampton, Mass.
__http://polaroid.com/history  .

__Sophie Tucker, last of the “Red Hot Mamas”; very lovely tribute video on Youtube https://search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=sophie+tucker+video+biography&ei=UTF-8&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-001

__Integrity is a group within the Episcopal Church for LGBT people, formed nationally in 1975. The local chapter is St. John’s on Elm Street, founding date and other history still unknown. Do you know?

COMING NEXT: What else is currently known about Northampton’s gay world just before the revolution, the beginning of lesbian and gay political activism in 1970? Watch for Scraps of the Past part two surveying research literature as well as more personal anecdotes.

Changes and Closing: Hampshire Bookshop, part four

Historian Barbara A. Brannon notes a change in the working relationship between Hampshire Bookshop founders Marion Dodd and Mary Byers Smith that coincided with the arrival at Smith College in 1922 of Esther Cloudman Dunn, a professor of English. In 1925, Dunn became Dodd’s housemate. They were partners for the rest of their lives. The two rented joined apartments at 76 Crescent Street which allowed them each to have office space. The offices had custom bookshelves made by Marion. Since 1921, Dodd had been hosting summer reunion picnics at her restored farmhouse in Maine for invited Smith alumnae. Now Dunn and what Dodd called their “literary” cat joined her for summers there.

In 1927, Mary Byers Smith resigned from the presidency of the bookshop. Though she remained on the board, she withdrew from direct involvement with the business. Smith never married, but had family obligations, including an aging mother, in Andover. After she moved back there, she remained in touch with college friends, chief among them Grace Hazard Conkling, English professor, poet, and divorcee. She also continued to be active in Smith College affairs, particularly in the Friends of the Smith College Library.

Frequently in town for business, Smith often stayed with Margaret Storrs Grierson, a professor of English and college archivist at Smith. Grierson eventually met a life companion, Professor of French Marine Leland. They met among Esther Dunn’s close circle of women friends, and lived in a house near Dunn and Dodd’s final home on Massasoit St.

At home in Andover, Mary Byers Smith had a historic building renovated as her own home near the one she was raised in, employing a woman architect. She did volunteer social work at Tewksbury State Hospital, served the Andover community on the school and library boards in the local library. In later life, she returned to college at Radcliffe and bought a home in Boston, where she expanded her volunteer work and friendships with women in professions, particularly social work. After Smith’s death in 1983, her personal letters were destroyed at her request.

In 1931, the HBS opened a branch on Green St. to accommodate students more readily as the campus grew westward down Elm Street. Other notable expansions included the production of bookfairs, and a traveling bookshop (station wagon) that traveled to prep school campuses and other venues to sell books.

As she neared retirement age, Marion Dodd began training a successor. Cynthia S. Walsh (Smith ’39) joined the HBS board of directors in 1943, then was hired as assistant manager in 1947. Like Dodd, she was unmarried and shared her home with another woman, Frances Mayhew, in a discrete lesbian relationship. Dodd retired in 1951. She hired Walsh as manager, but stayed on as chair of the board until 1957.

Marion Dodd died in 1961, leaving her estate to Dunn, who in turn, after her death in 1977, donated a portrait of Marion to be hung in Wright Hall in a room bearing Dodd and Dunn’s names. Dodd did not live to see the demise of her beloved enterprise. After fourteen years as manager, in 1965, Walsh was forced by personal circumstances to resign. Within a year, the Hampshire Bookshop was sold. In 1966, Robert T. Hale bought it, only to resell it in 1969 to Ralph and Oudi Intorcio, who had no bookselling experience. The business had declined so substantially that it soon was auctioned for debt. Of note is the fact that Ralph later found fame in Northampton with the Young at Heart Chorus.

While I had visited HBS shortly before it closed its doors I had forgotten about this remarkable enterprise until reminded by Northampton resident and historian Jan Whitaker. And it seems particularly poignant that in 1979 when the Valley’s first feminist bookstore Womonfyre opened on Masonic Street none of us knew that the grandmother of all women’s bookstores had existed, gloriously, a few short blocks away. I like to think that the ghosts of the remarkable HBS proprietors still linger, even unrecognized, to bless ventures by women in Northampton that inform, inspire and connect us.

__Brannon, Barbara A. “No Frigate Like a Book”: The Hampshire Bookshop, 1916-1971. Unpublished Doctoral dissertation. University of South Carolina, 1998. Dr. Brannon has a new webpage  http://www.barbarabrannon.com/

Coming Next: Scraps of the Past: Just before the Revolution

Famous Guests: Hampshire Bookshop, part three

On the occasion of the Bookshop’s twentieth anniversary in 1936, the Daily Hampshire Gazette printed a historical summary written by co-founder and manager Marion Dodd. Included was a list of more than fifty poets, playwrights, critics, or academics whose presentations in Northampton were produced by HBS. Among the many literary luminaries such as William Butler Yeats, Archibald MacLeish and Robert Frost who appeared as Hampshire Bookshop guest lecturers are some authors of particular interest to this blog.

Amy Lowell sketch (Pinterest)
Amy Lowell sketch (Pinterest)

One of the staunchest supporters of the store was Boston Pulitzer Prize poet and critic Amy Lowell. Lowell was large, cigar-smoking, and openly lesbian. She lectured at least five times for the Bookshop, including at least once on Walt Whitman.

Ada Dwyer-Russell (Pinterest)
Ada Dwyer-Russell (Pinterest)

Lowell’s partner Ada Dwyer Russell also lectured there.

Further representing American literature via the Hampshire Bookshop were the playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder and openly bisexual poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Thornton Wilder (Pinterest)
Edna St. Vincent Milay (Pinterest)
Edna St. Vincent Millay (Pinterest)

In the 1950s, Truman Capote promoted Breakfast at Tiffany’s here.

Truman Capote (Pinterest)
Truman Capote (Pinterest)

British writer Vita Sackville-West, who was at one time Virginia Woolf’s lover, lectured here, as did the bisexual man she was in an open marriage with, Harold Nicolson.  British novelist Hugh Walpole gave multiple lectures on Modern literature. This friend of Woolf and Henry James was gay, and had defended The Well of Loneliness at its obscenity trial in British court.

Vita Sackville-West (Pinterest)
Vita Sackville-West (Pinterest)
Hugh Walpole (pinterest)
Hugh Walpole (pinterest)

__Dodd, Marion E. “Hampshire Bookshop Has Had Interesting History; Marks 20th Anniversary.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. Northampton MA. April 17, 1936.
__Wikipedia has an incomplete list of better known LGBTQ people with individual entries for each of the lecturers briefly included here.

Coming Next:
Hampshire Bookshop, part four: Changes and Closing

The Founders: Hampshire Bookshop, part two

“The Hampshire Bookshop (1916-1971) existed within, and helped create, a culture amenable to the bluestocking women who managed, staffed, and patronized it,” concludes the HBS’s historian Barbara Brannon. “This culture extended to the ease with which women, whether married or single could fit into all aspects of community life and manage their own affairs. Then as today, Northampton represented a welcoming environment for independent women and for lesbian couples (though it is doubtful that most of the women of Marion Dodd’s generation who shared their lives with longtime companions would have applied the term to themselves). The homosocial network, of which the Hampshire Bookshop was a central part, encouraged the freedom of women through mutual support.”

hampshire bookshop
The Hampshire Bookshop, 8 Crafts Avenue (Historic Northampton)

The two Smith College alumnae most responsible for the birth and initial health of the Bookshop, Marion E. Dodd and Mary Byers Smith, returned to Northampton when they were in their thirties to begin the creative business venture. Dodd rented an apartment in town and Smith commuted from her family home in Andover. Though a biography of the HBS’s personnel wasn’t the purpose of Brannon’s dissertation she notes that a history of HBS is “inseparable from the personalities of those who made it” and offers much information not available elsewhere.

Marion Dodd, from a NYC family in the booktrade, was the Hampshire Bookshop’s driving force throughout most of its existence, actively managing the HBS from its 1916 beginning until her retirement in 1951. Dodd also become one of the first (and most influential) female members and officers in the American Booksellers Association. She mentored many HBS staff who went on to their own careers in the trade.

Brannon calls Dodd “in many ways a pioneering woman in the male-dominated world of books. She envisioned herself as following in the footsteps of the famous bookmen in her family, assuming her place in a patriarchal order. In the ‘gentlemanly’ field of bookselling ‘Miss Dodd’ conducted business in a thoroughly practical manner no different from that customary among male colleagues. In writing an anonymous column in the HBS newsletter The Book Scorpion Dodd used a masculine alter ego “the Scorp’. In her personal life, too, Dodd appropriated characteristics traditionally associated with men.”

Allison Lockwood reveals a little more of Marion Dodd’s character in her Northampton World War II history, Touched with Fire. In 1944 some Hatfield citizens objected to the introduction of workers from Jamaica to alleviate the agricultural labor shortage. This same year, Roy Wilkins, secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, appeared at a forum sponsored by the Inter-race Commission of Smith College, where his topic was “Racial Tension and the War.”

In March of that year the Daily Hampshire Gazette noted: “Book Banned In Some Cities Now Is On Sale Here.” The flap was over Strange Fruit, a favorably reviewed novel which dealt with interracial love and the institution of lynching. The book was stocked at the Hampshire Bookshop and remained for sale there even when the business was threatened with possible legal action. In a letter to the Gazette Dodd responded, “We believe that mature buyers of books are entitled to use their own judgment as to what they wish to read. Censorship in this state has a checkered career, and this bookshop was influential…years ago in getting the clause in the Massachusetts law changed… Strange Fruit deals constructively with one of the most pressing problems at the present moment.” Unsurprisingly, to me,  she was a lifelong member of The Society of Friends Mt. Toby Meeting House, which occasionally held meetings for worship in the bookstore.

“Though the Bookshop certainly in many senses empowered women,” Brannon concluded that “it was never an overtly ‘feminist’ enterprise in the modern sense of the word nor in terms of the contemporary struggle for women’s rights… Instead its managers seem to have simply claimed from the outset an equal footing with men, in commerce, society, and politics.

Co-founder Mary Byers Smith was the daughter of Andover industrialists and philanthropists; she provided major financial backing for the Bookshop from a personal inheritance. She was also a poet who contributed a good deal to the literary character of the HBS. She wrote many essays for The Scorpion as well as much of the store’s publicity and catalog copy.

As president of the corporation for over a decade, Smith helped shape its goals and policies. Though she claimed she was never deeply involved in the Suffrage Movement, she marched in the 1916 Suffrage parade in Northampton and her progressive thinking is certainly reflected in some of bookstore’s unusual goals. These included “proving the aptitude of women for the book business; demonstrating that a college bookstore could sell more than textbooks, stationary and doughnuts; and making contacts between authors and their public.”

More on these women and others to come. I apologize for the lateness of this post. I had fully intended to get it out there shortly after HBS part one but it needed extensive editing and I was adjusting to the gardening season starting and, with it, my daytime job.

__Brannon, Barbara A. “No Frigate Like a Book”: The Hampshire Bookshop, 1916-1971. Doctoral dissertation. University of South Carolina, 1998. Unless noted most of the information in this series of articles on HBS is drawn from this dissertation. Copies of it are available at Smith College and UMass/Amherst libraries. Brannon is in the midst of rebuilding her web page, I hope soon to be able to provide a link.  here it is  http://www.barbarabrannon.com/
__Lockwood, Allison M. Touched With Fire: An American Community in World War II. Northampton MA. Daily Hampshire Gazette, 1993. Source of the DHG photo identified in part one and the information on Dodd, censorship and racism c. 1944.
__”Robert Frost Is Guest At Bookshop’s Party.” Daily Hampshire Gazette, 17 Apr 1936.
Looking For: Photos of Dodd, Smith, Dunn and other HBS notables.
Coming next: The “unusual” guests: HBS part three